The UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment jointly hosted an event on Thursday entitled “Death and Taxes,” the purpose of which was to more fully inform California voters, who bear momentous responsibility in determining the state’s future.
The forum featured former California Governor Gray Davis and Assembly member Cameron Smyth offering up their perspectives on a range of pivotal issues, including controversial topics such as taxes and the reformation of the death penalty. While presiding over California, Governor Davis made education funding a top priority in addition to significantly investing in infrastructure, innovation and state health care. Assembly member Cameron Smyth, representing the 38th Assembly District, possesses a different vantage point of the issues and at times, offers contrary perspectives on how one should approach the fundamental issues.
The two spent much of the talk focusing on the propositions that could change California.
Prop 30: GOVERNOR’S TAX
Proposition 30 proposes to increase taxes on those that earn over $250,000 for seven years and sales taxes by a quarter cent for four years, as compensation for the state education deficit.
Smyth said he opposes the
proposition due to his distrust of
the ambiguous wording, in terms of how the funds will actually
be distributed. He doubts that it will do anything to
create new revenue for the K-12 school system, instead simply “backfilling the
proposed trigger cuts.”
Governor Davis, conversely, supports the proposition. As he states, the “Academic year has already been shortened and tuition will continue to rise” if this proposition is not passed. He emphasizes that California is a knowledge-based economy; the state has more research universities than anyone. To promote California’s role as the home of innovation, we need to continue to invest in our universities and the future.
Prop 31: STATE BUDGET
Both parties agree with this proposition, which calls for the establishment of a two-year budget process. It sets rules for offsetting new expenditures and governor budget cuts in fiscal emergencies.
As Smyth explains, “By
putting in [this budget process], local governments are given more stability
and legislators more flexibility.” Consequently, residents can spend one year
focused more on fiscal issues, with the next year concentrated on fiscal
Governor Davis concretely agrees: “This proposition makes some common sense changes.”
Prop 32: POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS BY PAYROLL
Proposition 32 seeks to stop special interest groups from buying votes, while prohibiting unions and corporations from contributing to politicians. The parties are divided on this one.
Smyth wholeheartedly supports this
proposition, noting that it “frees up
a lot of members that feel they have to vote a certain way because of special
interests that ‘squeeze’ them.” In his eyes, Prop. 32 gives more balance to
legislature than the present situation.
Davis disagrees that this change in balance is appropriate; he notes that it could “weaken labor and strengthen the corporate” by making it difficult for unions to compete.
Prop 33: AUTO INSURANCE
Proposition 33 is one with which both speakers warily disagree. If passed, Prop. 33 would change current law to allow insurance companies to set prices based on whether the driver previously carried auto insurance with any insurance company.
However, the proposition almost seems too good to be true: Both parties oppose it because, according to Smyth, “When you have one person financing this initiative, it becomes suspicious, no matter how good it seems”.
Governor Davis recounts his long-standing distrust of insurance companies, exclaiming: “I’m just voting no because I’m suspicious of Insurance company support!”
Prop 34: DEATH PENALTY
Indeed a controversial issue, Proposition 34 seeks to repeal the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Notably, it would apply retroactively to existing death sentences.
Davis objects to the retroactive judgment of previous death sentences. He fully believes that these “most heinous people of society” have “had their days in court” and these cases should not be reexamined under such scrutiny. In an emotional appeal, Davis disagrees with reopening the victims’ emotional wounds; “[we] should instead offer sympathies and help them move on with their lives.”
Cameron Smyth agrees in his opposition of Prop. 34, stating simply that “this is a philosophical issue and [one] must decide for himself.”
Prop 35: HUMAN TRAFFICKING AND PENALTIES
Proposition 35, which on the surface seems the most straightforward, asks to increase prison sentences and fines for human trafficking convictions. Additionally, the proposition would require convicted human traffickers to register as sex offenders.
Both parties immediately agreed on supporting the legislation, with Governor Davis even noting that for him, “This is a no brainer.”
Prop 36: THREE STRIKES
Another proposition that the parties fundamentally disagree on is Proposition 36; it seeks to revise the law to impose a life sentence only when new felony conviction is serious or violent.
Governor Davis adamantly supports Prop. 36, noting that, “It will reduce prison overcrowding, save millions of dollars and reduce burden on government.”
However, Smyth is rightfully concerned with a few technicalities, stating that the “definition of ‘serious’ and ‘violent’ is nebulous.” Additionally, he worries that a suspect’s “first two crimes may not be [rightfully] taken into account.”
Prop 37: GENETICALLY
Proposition 37 requires labeling of food sold to consumers made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways.
While Cameron Smyth opposes this proposition due to its arbitrary and illogical nature – in reference to which items come under scrutiny – Governor Davis again states that this one is for him a “No brainer.” Davis fervently believes that “We have the right to know what’s in our food.”
Prop 38: TAX TO FUND EDUCATION AND EARLY
Proposition 38 is simple: It would increase taxes on earnings across the board, using a sliding scale and would be effective over 12 years. Although, according to a promotional video shown, it would allegedly send billions of education dollars to schools while preventing interference from politicians, both Smyth and Davis oppose Prop. 38.
Smyth simply believes that “Raising taxes across the board will not solve the board,” as he strives for another approach.
Davis noted that Prop. 38 would raise taxes on those of the middle class, while benefiting the wealthy.
Prop 39: TAX TREATMENT FOR MULTISTATE BUSINESSES
A proposition that both parties solidly support is Proposition 39. It would require multistate businesses to pay income taxes based on percentage of their sales in California, effectively “closing the tax loophole,” in the words of Smyth.
Both parties point to the fact that out of state companies assume a tax advantage over California companies, noting the necessity of this policy. However, Smyth and Davis also carefully acknowledge that at least half of the generated revenue “must be used to support green jobs.”
Prop 40: REFERENDUM ON
REDISTRICTING STATE SENATE DISTRICTS
As Davis put it, “Just vote ‘Yes’ to this one” as it is a referendum. Its approval would allow State Senate districts to be drawn by the Citizens Redistricting Commission.
For more information on ballot propositions, visit:voterguide.sos.ca.gov/propositions/ 
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